Saturday, October 25, 2014

A portmanteau post

[Editor’s note. According to dictionary.com, a portmanteau word is a word composed of parts of two or more words, such as chortle (from chuckle and snort) and motel (from motor and hotel) . The term was first used by Lewis Carroll to describe many of the unusual words in his Through the Looking-Glass (1871), particularly in the poem “Jabberwocky.” Other authors who have experimented with such words are James Joyce and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Since this post combines parts of two previous posts of mine (one from October 2013 and one from October 2012) , I have dubbed it a portmanteau post. --RWP]

Here is part of Burt’s Pumpkin Patch in Dawsonville, Georgia, which Mrs. RWP and I visited when Bob and Linda (my stepbrother and his wife) visited Georgia last year:


This post is for all you city people who never lived on a farm, and all you highly educated folks out there who probably think you’re better than everybody else but still could learn a thing or two.

The following poem by James Whitcomb Riley, which hearkens back to a simpler time and a more agrarian society, may be just what the doctor ordered:


When the Frost is on the Punkin
by James Whitcomb Riley (1849 - 1916)


When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock,
And the clackin’ of the guineys, and the cluckin’ of the hens,
And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O, it’s then the time a feller is a-feelin’ at his best,
With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

They’s something kindo’ harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer’s over and the coolin’ fall is here —
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossoms on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin’-birds and buzzin’ of the bees;
But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock —
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,
And the raspin’ of the tangled leaves as golden as the morn;
The stubble in the furries — kindo’ lonesome-like, but still
A-preachin’ sermuns to us of the barns they growed to fill;
The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
The hosses in theyr stalls below — the clover overhead! —
O, it sets my hart a-clickin’ like the tickin’ of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps
Is poured around the cellar-floor in red and yaller heaps;
And your cider-makin’s over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With theyr mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and sausage too!...
I don’t know how to tell it — but ef such a thing could be
As the angels wantin’ boardin', and they’d call around on me —
I’d want to ’commodate ’em — all the whole-indurin’ flock —
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.


If I had to pick my favorite part of that poem besides the frost and the punkin and the fodder and the shock, it would have to be the rooster’s hallylooyer.

According to that Wikipedia article, Riley’s chief legacy was “his influence in fostering the creation of a midwestern cultural identity and his contributions to the Golden Age of Indiana Literature.” I don’t know about you but I didn’t even know there was such a thing as Indiana Literature, let alone a whole Golden Age of It. It seems we all can still learn a thing or two.

James Whitcomb Riley was not one of the great poets, but he is an interesting one nonetheless. Back in the day, we had to read that poem in school and also his “Little Orphant Annie” with the warning at the end of each stanza that “the Gobble-uns’ll git you ef you don’t watch out!” -- I thought you might like it as Halloween approaches.

If you feel you just can’t get enough of James Whitcomb Riley*, here is a link to 449 of his poems (he wrote more than a thousand, the majority in dialect) that should prove you wrong.


*here’s a shout-out to Pam Doyle, otherwise known as Hilltophomesteader, who (a) lives somewhere in southwestern Washington state and (b) has gone on record as really liking James Whitcomb Riley. Hi, Pam!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Letter to a young man

I have in my possession a three-page typed letter from one Howard Griffin, a neighbor of mine in Texas, that he handed to me along with a book, The Collected Letters of Ludwig van Beethoven, the week I graduated from high school in 1958.

If the name Howard Griffin -- or as he is better known and his letterhead states, John H. Griffin -- seems familiar, it may be because he went on to write Black Like Me in 1961. He had also written The Devil Rides Outside in 1952 and Nuni in 1956, but Black Like Me is what brought him to the attention of a larger public.

It is a bit long, but I wanted to share this letter with you that was written to a 17-year-old boy from a man in his late thirties, married with children. I have kept it now for 56 years.


.................................................................May 17, 1958

Dear Bobby,

.....This is perhaps an unwanted intrusion of advice, but at this time in your life, and out of my respect for you, there are a few things I wanted to tell you. Although I have had little contact with you, I have been concerned about you for many years; certainly because it is rare to encounter a first class mind, and you have one. You also have something even more important, a sensitivity and creativity that can make that mental equipment fruitful. Perhaps you yourself do not even recognize this yet.

.....Such people have a problem which few others understand or even know exists. I know that you feel alone in this for certainly you have felt the beginnings already. It is a subtle thing, perhaps too subtle to formulate. Without false humility, you recognize that you have superior equipment, and you also recognize that you have a grave responsibility to use that equipment fruitfully, not to waste it by following the crowd and becoming ordinary; and again not to waste it in fruitless experimentation or in seeking to gratify your ego by demanding that you yourself prove what great minds have already proved. Understanding first principles is correct; seeking to re-establish them becomes a presumption on which many fine minds fritter themselves out.

.....Our civilization has a dangerous tendency to brand everything which is not “average” as “abnormal.” Our colleges are permeated with a spirit of standardization that seeks to make men “average.” It is evident that to be average and to be truly normal are vastly different things. Seeking true normalcy does not mean following a standardized pattern, it means fulfilling one’s potential.

.....This, highly simplified, is the problem you are beginning to know. It will grow more acute. This is what makes for loneliness. It is terribly easy these days to lose sight of this, to be driven toward what is “average” rather than what is truly “normal.” To be normal requires all of the intellectual and spiritual virtues, to be average requires nothing more than a deadening acceptance of social standards which petrify the soul and compromise the intellect. It is basically the difference between expediency values that fluctuate according to what is convenient and acceptable, and absolute values based on what is immutably right (regardless of convenience or rationalized acceptability.)

.....You will go one of two ways now. You will either go toward normalcy (in the philosophical sense) where soul and intellect remain wedded and in close contact with reality, where your gifts will be liberated and given full sway to grow and enrich the world. Or you will, for want of an example of the proper encouragement (or because splendid and sterile minds will lead you that way) go toward what is average, no matter how brilliant it may appear to be. In this realm, the mind learns to rationalize to its own satisfaction rather than submit itself humbly to truth or reason. In this there is a separation between soul and mind, a divorce. In this we learn to act from motives of social approbation (even under the guise of morality) rather than from motives of love for higher values. In a word, we become dedicated to ourselves rather than to higher values. This produces a certain brilliant sheen -- we see it constantly for it is very fashionable; it is the superb mind which has become gluttonous and presumptuous; which feeds on itself rather than on reality. It is one of the great obscene tragedies that can happen to a man. All is done, in this instance, for the good of the man rather than for the good of a higher value.

.....This, in a word, will be your great temptation. You could easily go that way. We hunger for approval, all of us. Perfection in a given field, mastery of a given art, dedication to a given value -- these are hard things, rightfully so. No man has ever dared enter these worlds, whether scientific or artistic, without trembling and dread; for this means self-renunciation on a heroic basis. There is great private loneliness. A man has to seek his way in these realms utterly alone, maintaining complete independence of spirit insofar as the world’s opinions are concerned and at the same time, complete humility and respect for the value to which he is dedicating himself. This way ultimately leads to greatness and must eventually benefit the world. The other way, the way of the brilliant average leads to more immediate satisfactions, but also to grave frustrations unless the person completely deadens his soul against reminders of “what might have been.”

.....The only ultimate freedom, therefore, comes in voluntary slavery to a higher value.

.....This will be your big problem, as it is the problem of all men, and especially of highly gifted men. To see it clearly is half the battle. This does not mean that we should rebel -- rebellion is a form of egotism. This means that, as Pascal said, we must live among men and yet live alone, and that we must sacrifice ourselves out of love for them and the higher value; that our creations, scientific, scholastic or artistic do them more good than our preachments. The saint has always taught more by his example than all the tomes of theology. True normalcy, in its final analysis is synonymous to true sanctity in arts, sciences or scholasticism.

.....Symptoms that we are going the wrong way, even while persuading ourselves that we are going the right and dedicated way are these: if we have contempt for lesser men; if we feel arrogance for them then we are merely deluding ourselves. The motive for our actions then is one of hatred or repugnance, fleeing into another world to escape the vulgarities of this one. No, we must be drawn to that other world by love. That is the essential difference.

.....Another grave mistake, commonly made because men must blunder toward their own truths without too much guidance and help, is to think that dedication to a higher value implies “rising above reality.” In perfecting our tastes, we often tend to mistake values and to see as ugly what God created as good. We develop a certain contempt for that which is animal in man and for that which is of the earth. This is often carried to such extremes that it becomes a total delusion wherein “high type” men feel themselves “dragged down” by their very natures. This again is an enormous presumption -- it is not being spiritual, but in reality it is having contempt for God’s creation of man and nature. In moments of supreme tension, pain and death, men have always seen clearly the error of this tangential refinement -- they have seen that they have missed everything by refusing to go into the essences of all things, no matter how humble; by refusing to have affection for all elements of living. The saints have always known that it is good to have hunger and to eat, to have fatigue and to rest, to have work and then to have the good relaxation of pleasure. The other attitude is so obviously foolish and wrong, it hardly seems worthwhile to mention it, but it is too commonplace and dangerous an error not to be forewarned against.

.....You will, no matter what you do or where you go, feel the downdrag of lesser values espoused by most men. All I hope to do in this letter is to help you see this one fact clearly, to recognize it and not be dismayed by it. That is the average. What is important is not to be average, for the average is full of vanity and compromise and temporal logic. What is important is to be normal. The difference is ultimately simple -- it lies in whether one has a greater receptivity to merely pleasure dispensing values (as the average) or whether one has a greater receptivity to happines dispensing values (which indicates true normalcy) . It is possible that pleasure dispensing values can also be happiness dispensing values -- and this is safe and good. When pleasure dispensing values are not happiness dispensing values, then the choice must always be made; and this choice will depend on the depth of true culture possessed by the person who makes that choice.

.....I hope these observations will make you less lonely when you face these decisions. We must have faith that if we work hard enough, respect mastery, dedicate ourselves selflessly enough, some result will accrue, even though that result may not be clear to us. As Beethoven said in the book I am giving you: “Let your motive be the deed and not the result.”

.................................................................Cordially,

...................................................(Here he wrote “Howard” in black ink)

.................................................................John Howard Griffin

P.S. No need to embarrass yourself acknowledging this letter. If I can ever help you in any way, call on me.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

I got the horse right here, the name is Paul Revere

Because my last two posts (the stage-name quiz and the answers) dealt mostly with people in theater, I decided to use the headings “Guys” and “Dolls” for the two lists. Clever, eh, wot? *bows to receive applause from adoring public.

That reminded me that when Mrs. RWP and I went to a Red Lobster Restaurant for the first time many years ago, we giggled that instead of the words “Men” and “Women” on the rest room doors the signs read “Buoys” and “Gulls” -- I know. We are easily amused.

And that reminded me that at an elementary school in Kansas this week, the administration instructed the teachers not to call the children “boys” and “girls” any more, but “Purple Penguins” instead. I’m presuming the school mascot for team sports is a purple penguin, but it could be a saber-toothed tiger for all I know.

And that reminded me of what radio-personality Garrison Keillor has said for years is his favorite joke: One penguin says to another, “You look like you’re wearing a tuxedo” and the second penguin replies, “What makes you think I’m not?”

Pa-dum-dum. Rim shot on the snare drum. With a cymbal crash afterward.

Hey, folks, it’s Saturday morning and I can do only so much.

Blog reading is like betting on a horse race. You go with your heart and you take your chances.

Can do. Can do. (1:32)

Friday, October 10, 2014

Now it can be told: Robert Brague is the stage name of Huckleberry Hound

With apologies to Gertrude Stein, a rose is not a rose is not a rose is not a rose. Not always, anyway. Some roses are Gypsies and some roses are Dinahs. You read it here first.

The quiz in the last post was not exactly earth-shaking. Out of over seven billion people on planet Earth, we received entries from three players -- one in Scotland, one in Yorkshire, and one in San Diego, California. Out of the 20 people you were invited to identify, two players identified only one, and the third player identified nine. If this had been a test in school, the scores would have been 5, 5, and 45 unless the teacher graded on a curve.

Unfortunately, we cannot wait for the rest of you to decide to play.

Here are the answers to yesterday’s quiz:

Guys:

1. Anthony Dominick Benedetto (Tony Bennett)
2. Benny Lubelsky (Jack Benny)
3. Bernie Schwartz (Tony Curtis)
4. Herbert Khaury (Tiny Tim)
5. Archibald Leach (Cary Grant)
6. Maurice Micklewhite (Michael Caine)
7. Marion Morrison (John Wayne)
8. Arnold George Dorsey(Engelbert Humperdinck)
9. Leslie Lynch King, Jr. (President Gerald R. Ford)
10. William Jefferson Blythe III (President Bill Clinton)

Dolls:

1. Norma Jean Baker (Marilyn Monroe)
2. Lucille Fay LeSueur (Joan Crawford)
3. Vivian Mary Hartley (Vivian Leigh)
4. Eleanora Fagan (Billie Holliday)
5. Joan Alexandra Molinsky (Joan Rivers)
6. Ruby Katherine Stevens (Barbara Stanwyck)
7. Rose Louise Hovick (Gypsy Rose Lee)
8. Caryn Elaine Johnson (Whoopi Goldberg)
9. Frances Rose Shore (Dinah Shore)
10. Marguerite Annie Johnson (Maya Angelou)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A rose by any other name looks better on a marquee

Time for another quiz.

I don’t think I have done this before, but if I have, well, I’m going to do it again.

Lots of people in show biz use their real names (Gwyneth Paltrow and George Clooney come to mind) , but some have been persuaded to use names other than the perfectly good ones they were given at birth.

Can you guess who the following people are or were? Some are easy and some are not. No fair Googling. I’ll admit to throwing you a couple of curves.

Guys:

1. Anthony Dominick Benedetto
2. Benny Lubelsky
3. Bernie Schwartz
4. Herbert Khaury
5. Archibald Leach
6. Maurice Micklewhite
7. Marion Morrison
8. Arnold George Dorsey
9. Leslie Lynch King, Jr.
10. William Jefferson Blythe III

Dolls:

1. Norma Jean Baker
2. Lucille Fay LeSueur
3. Vivian Mary Hartley
4. Eleanora Fagan
5. Joan Alexandra Molinsky
6. Ruby Katherine Stevens (Hint: My father’s favorite actress)
7. Rose Louise Hovick
8. Caryn Elaine Johnson
9. Frances Rose Shore
10. Marguerite Annie Johnson

The answers will be in my next post!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Obamacare For Dummies, or Am I my brother's keeper?

My step-sister-in-law in Texas sent me an email that boils down the 10,535 pages of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) , which some people call Obamacare, into four sentences:

1. In order to insure the uninsured, we first have to uninsure the insured.
2. Next, we require the newly uninsured to be re-insured.
3. To re-insure the newly uninsured, they are required to pay extra charges to be re-insured.
4. The extra charges are required so that the original insured, who became uninsured, and then became re-insured, can pay enough extra so that the original uninsured can be insured, which will be free of charge to them.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is called “redistribution of wealth” or its more common name, SOCIALISM.

Depending on your point of view, this is either a very good thing or a very bad thing.

I am suddenly reminded of something I heard President Lyndon B. Johnson say way back in nineteen-sixty-something: “We’re going to take from the haves and give to the have-nots who need it so much.”

Again, depending on your point of view, this is either a very good thing or a very bad thing.

Time may march on, but some things never change.

Monday, October 6, 2014

I haven’t posted to my blog in 10 days and the world has not come to an end

Fortunately, nothing really noteworthy has happened except that (a) ebola has come to the United States, (b) ISIS/ISIL continues to endear itself to the world, and (c) the U.S. midterm elections are a mere four weeks away, so in this post we’ll just ramble.

Ready? Let us begin.

I made several new friends in the past year -- a gastroenterologist, a urologist -- no psychiatrist yet, but that may be next.

My PCP (translation for non-U.S. readers: primary care provider, which is what used to be called a family doctor, which is what used to be called a general practitioner, which is what used to be called...oh, forget it) has taken me off iron pills because my hemoglobin is now 15, my hematocrit is 42, and my ferritin is 70-something. I’m officially no longer anemic.

My urologist said that the analysis of the 24-hour collection of my urine a few weeks back (in a big, wide-mouthed orange plastic container that could hold a couple of gallons, for those of you who just have to know every last detail) shows that everything is normal. He has scheduled me for a CT scan with and without contrast in one year.

Our oldest son turned 50 a couple of weeks ago. He didn’t want any big hoopla but consented to having a small family gathering at a local restaurant where a jazz group plays on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings. When we walked in they were playing Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” and it really took me back. At our table were the honoree, his wife, his two children (aged 17 and 14), his parents-in-law, and us, his honest-to-gosh parents, Mr. and Mrs. RWP. A good time was had by all, especially after dinner when he joined the jazz quartet for about 20 minutes with his soprano saxophone. I especially liked “Watch What Happens” even without Sarah Vaughan (2:36).

Last Thursday I appeared on the local telly here in Atlanta as part of a choir on a two-hour program about the Redback Church Hymnal, a southeastern U.S. phenomenon that uses shaped notes, or, more accurately, shape notes. Our choir (there were two) had three separate segments and sang ten songs altogether. Here’s proof I was there, a photo of a telly screen taken by my friend Margaret Gray Turner of Cartersville, Georgia:


One of my grandsons is playing college-level baseball now:


...and another was chosen by his friends to represent the Junior Class at his high school’s homecoming football game:


...and another enjoys being in the band:


...and another, who began taking dance lessons when he was three (he’s 17 now) , was just named to “All State” level for the 2014-2015 school year. Sixteen dancers (eight boys and eight girls) were chosen out of 140 very talented students who auditioned statewide. (Sorry, no photo available.)

Mrs. RWP is nearly finished with the first afghan of six she plans to crochet for the grandchildren. Just in time too for the eldest (the baseball player) as the temperature dipped to 36 degrees Fahrenheit yesterday morning and I hear that college athletic dorms are pretty drafty (that’s a little pun for Reamus if he happens to be reading this, and I hope the rest of you got it too) .

The leaves, they are a-falling, and the temperatures, they are a-dropping, because October has arrived. Summer is past and gone. The swimming pool in our subdivision is closed. Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner. Time flies when you’re having fun (and even when you’re not) .

Well, kiddies, I think that’s enough rambling for today and I do hope we’ll be talking again soon.